JOYCE MCMILLAN on LIFEGUARD at Govanhill Baths, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 11.10.12 _________________________________________________________
3 stars ***
EVEN MORE than most conceptual art, concept-based theatre invites a question: after the brilliant idea, what then? Adrian Howells’s Lifeguard has been in preparation for two years, and there’s no doubt about the power of the idea that drives it. Co-presented by the National Theatre of Scotland, the Arches, and the Govanhill Baths Community Trust, the event is full of rich angles and dimensions, from the cleaning and restoration of the 90-year-old training pool in which the performance takes place, to the fine installation of shapes and memories created by children from two local primary schools in the gleaming, slanting space of the empty Big Pool next door, with the help of writer Linda Radley, musician Michael John McCarthy, and designer Brian Hartley.
Then there is the soup and cake on offer after the show, courtesy of the community trust; and the literally immersive nature of the experience, with the audience invited to change into their swimsuits, to sit close enough to the action to get well splashed, and finally to jump into the pool themselves.
When it comes to the 60-minute show itself, though – a mixture of sounds, recorded text, film, and live movement, performed by Howells with Ira Mandela Siobhan – it seems surprisingly short of content, offering just a few fragments of familiar reminiscence, some beautiful projections of filmed swimmers onto the gleaming tiles at the bottom of the pool, and short sequences of movement, peaceful or splashily aggressive, which explore issues of power, playfulness, and the struggle for dominance between generations.
In the end, two Govanhill swimmers – one old, one very young – join in the action; but their stories seem more muted and marginal here, than in the exhibition next door. And despite the sheer joy of the communal celebration in which this show ends, it still seems more like a sketch for a possible performance inspired by this remarkable place, than the performance itself.